Fortson Mill

McCaughey and McCaughey Sawmill, photo from Jason Young

It was December 1st, 1904 when Mr. L. Brooks sold 113.05 acres of land to Hugh L. McCaughey (1857-1947), Frederick J. McCaughey (1864-1937) and William H. McCaughey (1875-1940)  They took part of this land to build a sawmill along the Stillaguamish River.  The name of this mill was McCaughey Lumber Company, operations started on July 27th, 1905.  The new train from Arlington had reached Darrington in 1901.  The whole area was in a boom with sawmills developing along the tracks. A settlement sprang up around the McCaughy mill and by 1910 the population had grown to 130 people. By 1913 it had become a major employer for the area, the average wage for a 12 hour day was $3.50.  McCaugheys sold their sawmill moving operations upriver on the Stillaguamish and leased the L.D.R. Mill. . Records show that the McCaugney Lumber Company was stricken from the list of Washington State businesses fourteenth Biennial Report, Washington State Office of Secretary of Sate, October 1, 1914 - September 30, 1916. Oral histories indicate that McCaugheys continued their lease at the L.D.R. Mill until the 1930s.  These conflicting dates could be resultant in discontinuation their previous business name.

The old Klement and Kennedy Company Store, office and homes of Fortson WA

Georgia-born Seattle attorney, George Hayley Fortson (October 19, 1860 - unknown) purchased the McCaughey Lumber Company.  Stocks of $1,000 were sold and the Fortson Lumber Company incorporated May 19, 1914 capitalized at $6,000.  Trustees included Lee Erastus Dickinson (1871-1940), Joseph Kohout and Royal Herbert Lamson Sr. (1870-1934). In the height of Fortson's Lumber Company's success it was severely damaged by a fire some time around 1917.  The company dissolved on December 19, 1918.

Grading lumber, photo Darrington Historical Society

Theodore M. Klement (1880-1957) and Charles Thomas Kennedy (1871-1935) bought the Fortson Mill in 1923 which had been idle for several years.  The name changed to Klement and Kennedy Company Mill.  Even though the sawmill was once again renamed, the surrounding community continued to call it Fortson and the old site is still known as that today.  By 1923 Fortson as a town, had phone service through Pacific Telephone, there was a company store, post office, several fine homes and several bunk houses for the men. There were three saloons in the area, but later one of these saloons was converted into a Union Sunday School. The sawmill at Fortson was a modern mill for the day and maintained logging railroads with 2 locomotives and one skidder, 4 flat cars and 2 long logging sides, a large machine shop and electric light plant.

The town and mill of Fortson, photo Darrington Historical Society

There were two other mills in the area along the Stillaguamish River near Fortson. The Fortson Shingle Mill was located to the west where French Creek Road is now. The L.D.R.Mill was located to the east about 1/4 mile east of the Swede Heaven Road railroad crossing. By 1926 Fortson had grown to a population of 320 people.  The Fortson Mill, seeing truck traffic was increasing, modified the layout of the mill to include landfill forming the large millpond into two ponds to accommodate improved vehicle access.  The company invested in 4 logging trucks looking to the future of new logging practices. 

With increased motor traffic homes also began to move closer to the Arlington - Darrington Road, now known as State Route 530 N.E. today.  Henry and Addie Bennett, owners of the Whitehorse Store installed the first gas pump meeting the growing demands and were always sure to turn on their flashing lights at night so motorist would not miss their chance to get gas for several miles.  Though a growing number of trucks were on the roads, the train remained the primary method of moving logs and lumber for several years to come, however times were changing for the valley.  Operations for the Fortson Logging Railroad ceased in 1936.

Keeping the saws sharp at Klement and Kennedy Mill, photo from Bruce Seaton

The Mill at Fortson was powered by steam. Throughout the massive concrete ruins you can still see the round holes where pipes once ran.  There was a waterwheel north of the small pond where the fish ladder is now near the railroad bridge on the Whitehorse Trail. This was the old Electric Light Plant used for many years for lighting up the mill and homes.  Later when the Skagit River Hydroelectric, supplying electricity for Seattle, completed the first of the three dams on the river, the electric transmission line was routed down the Stillaguamish Valley making the mill and town able to connect to the more modern methods of electricity with Seattle Power and Light.
The old waterwheel for the electric light plant at Fortson, photo from Theresa Anderson

Fortson, (Klement & Kennedy), was sold to Burt Barker in 1956,  The mill was dismantled by 1960 and moved up to Darrington, partnering with Bob and Ivan Jones becoming the Three Rivers Mill.  This same location will later become Summit Timber, and now known as Hampton Lumber Company.  What salvage was not taken to Darrington was sold to the Taylor Mill down at Cicero.  Most of the buildings were moved off of sight becoming homes.  With the constant increasing of motor vehicle traffic, workers no longer needed to live clustered around the mill where they worked.

  De-barker on the small mill pond, photo from Phil Berquist

The De-Barker once ran none stop feeding the sawmill with a steady stream of logs.  Now the mill pond is quiet, a place to reflect the past as you watch the ducks come and go.  Every springtime the Darrington Volunteer Fire Department holds the Juvenile Fishing Derby here, a great family tradition.  You can still see the large grooves cut into the concrete embankment where tracks ran down to the pond to bring up logs to the De-barker.

The small mill pond at Fortson, photo by Martha Rasmussen

Even though the town of Fortson has drifted into the past, it leaves behind a legacy of an era of when a mill created its town.  You can reach out and touch the past, the big dreams, families that lived and grew here, the whirring of machinery and hear the train that connected the S.F. Stillaguamish Valley.

The ruins of old Fortson, photo by Martha Rasmussen

Over the years nature has pressed into the ruins of Fortson creating a strange sense of the present and the past coexisting simultaneously. Massive concrete walls are adorned with Maidenhair Ferns, Indian Plums and Trillium grow where men once stood working to make a day's wage now have melted into historical natural gardens where birds and bats call home.

Old Fortson Mill is 7 miles west of Darrington, the Whitehorse Trail passes right by this historic site on the way to Darrington.